Dear Kim:

I am on the board of directors of a small local community theatre. The board of directors is elected from the members of the company for two-year terms. The artistic director, the treasurer, the fundraising chair, the publicity head, the theatre technical manager, the building manager and nearly all other leadership roles in the company are drawn from it.  The board is very good at running the theatre company, but are not so good at fundraising.  Part of our problem is that the members of the company are mostly young professionals just starting careers and they lack contacts into the wealthier parts of the community.

We’ve been around for 75 years and have a good reputation.  We’ve done a good job of fundraising within our membership and with grants, but have not been able to reach out to the influential segments of society very well.

I feel that the board structure is limiting our fundraising potential. Should we change the structure to replace our current board with an unelected board of directors made up of community members, and let the current board become a working committee reporting to the board? There would be resistance to that idea, but are there significant fundraising advantages to a more traditional board?

~Time for a Change

Dear Time:

I had to laugh reading your letter because I can imagine how many people serving on “traditional” boards would happily change places with anyone on your board!  You have a great situation at your theater, with you and the other board members clearly being committed and hard working and creative.  The problems you are having with fundraising will not be solved with a different structure.  You say that you don’t know the wealthier people in your community-how will that be solved by having a different board structure?

Here’s your problem: you need to re-think the fundraising component of your theater. Every other board member seems to be able to do their job with the time and talent they have, but your fundraising chair cannot.  Perhaps he or she is inexperienced, lacks confidence, or has too much to do, or being the fundraising chair is not as fun a job as being the artistic director, for example. However, it is more likely that the fundraising program needs an overhaul.

You have been in existence for 75 years.  Believe me, in that time many wealthy and generous people have come to your plays.  You need to meet with your long time subscribers and ask them to upgrade their giving.  You need to analyze your ticket pricing structure and make sure that people who can pay more, do. You need to start a planned giving program and a stronger donor program from your membership.  You need to make sure that single ticket buyers are invited to be season ticket subscribers.  In other words, you need a consultant to help you design a disciplined and systematic fundraising program that can be implemented by a volunteer fundraising committee.

You have a fundraising structure in place now that is working well enough to keep you afloat all these years, and now you just need to make the changes that will allow you to do capital campaigns and raise larger amounts of money.  I suggest contacting the development director of a larger theater company and asking for some free advice, as well as attending workshops that may be offered by your community’s arts alliance or statewide arts council.  You don’t need to make any dramatic changes, and your organization is going to continue to grow and thrive. A few changes will make a huge difference.

Thanks for your hard work!

~Kim Klein